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Scientists Search for Answers as Antibiotics become Obsolete

Posted by Brook White on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 @ 01:41 PM

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Carrie Furr, PhD, RACCarrie Furr, PhD, RAC, is a Senior Director Operations at Rho. Day-to-day, Carrie supports pharmaceutical sponsors of clinical trials, leading an integrated product development program consisting of clinical, preclinical, chemistry, manufacturing and controls, and regulatory components. Before diving into the clinical trials industry, Carrie spent 7 years earning her PhD in biochemistry, bacteriology and bacteriophage biology at Texas A&M University. A biologist by training, Carrie’s dissertation and doctoral research focused on how a bacteriophage (phage) protein causes bacteria to die. In theory, phage proteins can be used in phage therapy to combat any bacteria-based disease. 

As anyone who has ever had a bacterial infection or seen an end-of-the-world survival movie knows, antibiotics are an important tool in a doctor’s arsenal. Since the discovery of penicillin in 1928, antibiotics have been extremely effective at treating and preventing a variety of infections. But imagine life without them – doctors unable to prevent infections after surgery, your child’s minor cut might morph into a major infection, and there wouldn’t even be a treatment for pink eye.

With the increasingly popular use of antibiotics, however, microbes have mutated and learned to resist the drugs. Penicillin was once extremely effective against most strains of bacteria, but now it is used far less frequently as many strains have built up resistance. In many cases antibiotics are becoming obsolete.

What can be done? Without antibiotics, a huge range of diseases -- from pneumonia to strep throat to syphilis – would become much more difficult, if not impossible, to treat. While there are a few things you can do to help prevent antibiotics from further increasing resistance – for example, taking all prescribed antibiotics even if you feel better or only taking antibiotics when you truly have an infection – it isn’t enough. Scientists need to work on other solutions.

phage, bacteriophageBacteriophages, or “phages” for short, may be able to help. Certain phage proteins cause bacteria to die. Researchers are working to determine if these proteins or whole phages can be safely converted into therapies to combat bacteria-based diseases. Developing an alternative treatment to antibiotics could have huge implications on the treatment of bacterial infections around the world. Additionally, phage therapy holds the promise of providing a dynamic solution to the dynamic problem of antibiotic resistance.

While academics and pharmaceutical companies work on the research, people like me are working on smoothing the road to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for these novel therapies. As a postdoctoral researcher, I focused on how bacteriophages can kill certain bacteria. As a senior regulatory scientist, I work on the practical steps required to bring pharmaceutical products, including phage therapy, into the market to treat patients. Currently, the path to develop phage therapy through to regulatory approval is unclear.

In the face of antibiotic resistance in the U.S. and around the world, it is important to understand our alternatives and what must be done to advance alternative treatments.

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